|Photo by/ Ahmed F.Gad|
Mersa Gawasis is the only recorded Pharaonic coastal site on the Red Sea. The site is located at the mouth of Wadi Gawasis, 25 km to the south of Safaga and 50 km to the north of al-Quseir. The site occupies the top and slopes of a coral terrace, which is bordered by the seashore to the east, the wadi to the south, and a playa to the west.
The site was discovered in the mid–1970s by Abdel Monem Sayed from the University of Alexandria who conducted test excavations and recorded some shrines associated with anchors and inscribed stelae dating to the 12th Dynasty (ca.1985–1773 BC). He identified Mersa Gawasis with the port of Sawu from where seafaring expeditions were sailing south to Punt during the Middle Kingdom.
|Site today - Photo by/ Ahmed F.Gad|
In 2001 the University of Naples, 'L’Orientale' (UNO), Naples, and the Italian Institute for Africa and the Orient (IsIAO), Rome (Italy), in collaboration with Boston University (BU), Boston (USA), begun a systematic excavation of the site, under the direction of Rodolfo Fattovich (UNO/IsIAO) and Kathryn Bard (BU), in order to understand the organisation of seafaring expeditions in Pharaonic times.
Fieldwork between 2001 and 2004 recorded a ceremonial area with votive shrines close to the seashore; a settlement area with small semi-subterranean huts in the western sector of the site; and an industrial area with kilns for copper-working along the western slope of the terrace, dating back to the Middle Kingdom. Potsherds and obsidian flakes from the southern Red Sea, as well as fragments of Nubian pottery, where collected.
|Photo by/ Abdel Monem A.H. Sayed. JEA 61 (1975)|
The timbers, together with limestone block-anchors, curved cedar steering oars, rigging ropes, and other items, are from ancient Egyptian ships. In addition to the nautical items in the second cave, and the two antechambers discovered to branch from it, the archaeologists found limestone tablets with hieroglyphic inscriptions that detail long-ago trade expeditions to the Red Sea region known as Punt.
"Wadi" is a dry valley, "mersa" is a bay. And appropriately, the site is located on the wall of a dry valley which 4,000 years ago was a deep sheltered embayment, lush with mangroves, and deep enough for launching large ships to sail the Red Sea.
It is well documented from tomb reliefs (especially at Pharaoh Hatshepsut's funerary temple at Deir El Bahri and cliff-face inscriptions in the Wadi Hammamat) that the Egyptians sent trading expeditions south along the Red Sea to a land they called "Punt". The location of Punt has never been accurately established, but it appears to be Eritrea or related parts of the Horn of Africa. From Punt the Egyptians obtained ebony, exotic animals, gold, resins (incense), pygmy slaves, and the other exotica that greased the wheels of government, the military, and the temples.
Excavations at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis in 2006-07 uncovered a new stela with the cartouche of Senusret III, and two wooden cargo boxes with the cartouches of Amenemhat IV. Seven man-made caves, which were used as storerooms, were located, where remains of large timbers of seafaring ships continue to be found. Geological and archaeological investigations have also located the probable area of the beach of the ancient harbour. In the production area below the caves, where hundreds of bread moulds have been excavated, a lithics workshop was also excavated.
All the organic materials which were found inside the sealed caves are now the focus of conservation efforts. With all this archaeological nautical evidence the “Min of the Desert” project was conceived.